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Fed Judge in ex-Gov. Blagojevich Case is Actor and Novelist

Blagojevich in happier days

Blagojevich in happier days

Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich won’t be the only true character in the courtroom when his public corruption trial begins in June. The judge presiding over the case has quite a background.

MIKE ROBINSON
The Associated Press
CHICAGO – Judge James B. Zagel has meted out justice on the silver screen and masterminded a bank robbery in the pages of a novel.

But the veteran federal court judge who will preside over former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial leaves any theatrics behind when he dons his black robe and takes the bench.

Lawyers whose antics go over the top are swiftly silenced in Zagel’s courtroom , not with a tyrannical thwack of the gavel but with a deft, sly, sarcastic turn of phrase. Those who know Zagel say that approach will serve him well as he presides over Blagojevich’s trial , one of the biggest cases of his 22-year career.

“Nothing gets out of control in Judge Zagel’s court,” says Ronald Safer, a former federal prosecutor who recalls getting this warning when he was too loudly repetitive during a cross examination, at least in Zagel’s view: “First, turn it down about two levels. Second, the lily has been gilded.”

Blagojevich’s trial, set for next June, is Zagel’s second headline-grabbing case in two years. In 2007, he presided over the three-month Operation Family Secrets murder conspiracy trial, Chicago’s biggest organized crime case in decades. The judge sent three reputed mob bosses to prison for life.

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